100 Mile House has two new certified St. John Ambulance therapy dogs ready to serve the community.
Last month St. John Ambulance had an intake where they recruited several dogs and their owners into the therapy dog program. This included 108 Mile Ranch resident Darlene LaPointe and her Bernese mountain dog Soren and Horse Lake’s Jodi Thomson and her maltipoo Kaillie, who bring the number of therapy dogs based in 100 Mile House up to five. Both women are looking forward to giving back to their communities.
“I have always thought about what kind of volunteering I could do but I never knew. I knew that Soren had such an overabundance of love for everybody so I wondered if I could incorporate that into my volunteering,” LaPointe said. “So when I saw an ad for (therapy dogs) I thought why not try it?”
Thomson said she got the idea to register Kaillie after visiting a friend in Fischer Place. Every time they’d come in together she said the residents loved seeing her dog. She decided doing that officially would be really good for both of them, especially because her dog likes to snuggle with people.
“I take her to (Horse Lake Elementary School) where I work as an educational assistant. The kids just love her and she is just so calming, especially for the kids who are a bit hyper,” Thomson said.
Unlike service dogs, which are trained to assist a single person, therapy dogs are intended for anyone in the public to interact with. Most of them are simply the pets of owners like Thomson and LaPointe with gentle temperaments who listen to their partners.
Therapy dog program unit facilitator Karen Wright said they test the dogs by running them through 12 different tests. This includes riling the dogs up and getting them to calm down and shaking tinfoil pie plates to create noise.
“It’s just to see how they would react because different noises can happen in a facility too,” Wright said. “They all did well, it just didn’t phase them.”
Soren, who is seven, isn’t used to going out in public spaces such as stores, LaPointe said. Before the training, she took him out in the neighbourhood to socialize him, which she said paid off during the testing.
“They had more confidence seeing him than I did,” LaPointe said. “They said he was a perfect fit so it was comforting to know.”
LaPointe said they really tested Soren and Kaillie’s response to sudden loud noises. Thomson added they also had people in wheelchairs and pretending to use crutches around them to further test them. She was quite proud when Kaillie, only one and a half, didn’t react to any of the stimuli.
Included in the training were tips and tricks for the handlers as well. Thomson said dog and owners work as a team when they visit a facility like a hospital or a senior home and it’s important for her to know how to read people.
“When we go to see the elderly we have to keep in mind some want to see the dogs and some don’t. There are also some who are unable to pet the dogs, so I would have to lift her up, take the person’s hand and pet her for them,” Thomson said.
Wright said that when she visits senior care facilities in Williams Lake there are a lot of people who don’t get regular visitors. As a result, she said they really look forward to her and her dogs coming as a chance to socialize.
LaPointe said when she was in the hospital she missed being around Soren so she sympathizes with the patients and residents of health facilities. Getting a chance to provide them that connection and make them happier is her main goal in the coming months.
“If the furball can actually make someone smile, that’s all that counts,” LaPointe said. “Just the touch of an animal is so calming and soothing for everybody.”
Both LaPointe and Thomson said they hope more people follow their example and enroll their dogs in the program. LaPointe added St. John’s looks for dogs of all breeds and sizes, so long as they have a good temperament.
Wright said those who sign up need to be willing to visit their assigned facilities once to twice a week to build up a repertoire with patients. They also must be willing to attend community events every now and then to support the community.
“The more teams we can get out 100 Mile way will be great. I’ll probably have another evaluation early next year,” Wright said.